Litany of Humility

February 21, 2008

Written oh about 100 years ago is this Litany of Humility. I’m not Catholic, but I love reading the great Catholic minds since they seem to have a lock on such rich material. In my field of work it’s hard to fully embrace humility. Our stock and trade is notoriety. Getting the masses to view our stories means publicity, distribution and recognition are part of doing my job right. It requires exposure to a huge audience and doing business with people who are famous often for just looking good.

The Litany of Humility is a regular prayer of mine. It helps keep me in my place. In case you think it’s cute or humble that I would pray this, just know that I am arrogant. There, you’ve got that on me. When you say that all Christians are fakes, arrogant, evil etc. you’ll hear a hearty “Yessah!” from me. You sure nailed me. So any form of good, humility, regular prayer, wisdom or love shouldn’t be accredited to me as if I’m the end all source of this stuff. I don’t know if you know what you’re made of but I know what I’m made of and there’s a good reason why I’m not the author of the Litany of Humility. Mankind wouldn’t need a prayer of humility if we didn’t have such a general problem with pride in the first place.

Humility isn’t just a problem of the famous, if you’ll read this litany with me, you’ll see that even the anonymous loner can have a problem with a lack of humility. Not only do our good qualities transcend us, so do our bad qualities. This is our DNA. It’s a ball of shit that testifies against us– well, against me.

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
deliver me, Jesus.

Here’s the first grouping’s structure. It’s calling out the kinds of things I normally desire. From these desires these groupings begin and end with “deliver me”…

From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
From the fear of being humiliated,
deliver me, Jesus.

Some of these seem kind of reasonable; love, honor, praise, consulted, approval. But like all good things they are twisted by desire. It’s good to be honored but it’s not virtuous to desire it. In fact, we tend not to praise those who desire to be praised. So the person who desires to be praise is actually less praiseworthy.

The more I desire these things, the less likely I will get them. It’s implied that we naturally want these things and cannot deliver ourselves of this desire. That’s why we have to turn to a supernatural source of deliverance–and He’s got a name and it’s probably the last name you’d ever want to say in a time of pride and arrogance.

The poetic structure is beautiful, simple but loaded with meaning. It goes from a deliverance of desires to that last sentence of the group where we go to a deliverance of fear. It also throws down a challenge…that if we do not seek Jesus’ deliverance from these desires that we fear being humiliated. This brings us to the next grouping…the fears:

From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected,
That others may be loved more than I,

Opposite of desire, these are things we fear for ourselves. In fearing these attributes, we might not grasp humility. These are also terms of victimhood where we feel justified to stand proud. Why am I not humble? Because I was forgotten, ridiculed or wronged and standing proud is my just revenge.

Personally, I find these far harder to deal with. I don’t know if this is universal or just me, but I tend to struggle with these fears more than I struggle with the previous desires.

But the last line not only denotes a change of phrasing, it also has a different solution. Notice how in the first grouping to overcome desire we ask Jesus for help. This time, the solution is to value the love of others more than myself. This knocked me on my ass and instead of just reading some guy’s beautiful words I felt like I was peering into a wise man’s blueprint for mankind.

How do I overcome fear? Hope that others may be loved more than me. Actually “hope” is the wrong word because now the poetic irony comes full circle. Here the words turn to focus on others, and we need Jesus to put this new, good desire into us.

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That in the opinion of the world,
others may increase, and I may decrease,
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I,
provided that I may become as holy as I should.

– Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val

This kicks my ass every time I read it and I’ve been over these words hundreds of times. Not that you should be impressed with my humility. My desire is for you to be esteemed more than me. May you increase as you read the Litany of Humility. It’s a kick in my pride’s crotch.

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11 Responses to “Litany of Humility”

  1. Madhatter Says:

    ..and this is what i really respect about you – down to earth honesty
    it’s refreshing.

  2. Sean Says:

    This what Christianity is all about. When Jesus says that we won’t enter heaven unless our righteousness exceeds that of the pharisees, he’s calling us to do things that are impossible without the Holy Spirit. If you can find the time, listen to this sermon that I heard at Times Square Church while I was in New York a couple weeks ago: http://media.tscnyc.org/mp3/2080127S1.mp3 . It’s about how we need to approach God’s throne so he can give us a kindness that is impossible without the Holy Spirit. When people see the law of kindness in us, They will be forced to take notice. This message will stick with me for the rest of my life.

  3. tennapel Says:

    Sean, I don’t think humility (referenced in this litany) is there to force people to take notice. Christ’s humility is the opposite, “Don’t let the right hand see what the left hand is doing.” so that our intent is to be anonymously kind, unnoticed, considered last. If people want to take notice of that then good deal. I think there’s a reason why anonymous do-gooders like Mother Theresa were largely forgotten to celebrate very public do-gooders like Lady Di.

    By the way Sean, my hope is that you will be esteemed as greater than me so I don’t need to win this argument.

  4. Sean Says:

    No, I agree. The fact that this kind of humility requires the Holy Spirit just reminded me of that sermon.

  5. Frank Says:

    I have seen this prayer before — I really liked Doud’s analysis and commentary on it. He shouldn’t let it go to his head though. :)

    Few years back I was being terribly slandered by a customer of mine. Drove me nearly mad; could have led to my marriage breaking up. I went to my pastor for advice (legal advice) and he told me to stop commiting the sin of vanity! I nearly choked! He explained my problems were caused by caring what other people thought of me. He said I needed to forgive this person and pray for them. At the end of my rope I followed my pastor. After a few weeks of piss-poor-praying I had two thoughts/images pop into my head: 1. Jesus being slandered, spit on beaten up, laughed at etc…. 2. how horrible must the life of this person been to make them do what they did…. It later came out that they were suffering from some mental illness. God used this experience to teach me humility and bring me closer to Jesus and give me peace — how cool is that!

  6. Max Says:

    Well, this kind of puts a little perspective into my artwork.
    Thanks for sharing that!

  7. Tom Bancroft Says:

    Doug, long time ‘watcher from afar’, first tim poster. Love your blog and your honesty. I am also a Believer and love what your heart is striving for! Thanks for writing about your persuit of Christianity. I love your art and writing too, but a “humility” post may not be the greatest place to mention that, huh?:) We haven’t met, but you remind me of a former boss/friend, Phil Vischer (Veggietales). Minus the ‘strong’ language, you two have similiar thought process’ and creativity. Keep up the good work. (dang, there I go again.) Btw, I think we could be good friends.
    Maybe one day.

  8. Sean Says:

    Hey Tom,

    My roommate has your book on character design. Great stuff!

  9. Davidjtate Says:

    That’s a really cool litany/prayer you’ve stumbled across, there, Doug. I definitely need to speak it over my life from time to time. Sometimes I find myself so desperately seeking the praise and approval of others, to the point of worrying if people will like what I’m creating for them, and when you video edit for a living, like me, it can really get to you. It has gotten to me so much so, in fact, I’ve been having panic attacks and general anxiety from the sheer stress of it all.

    A really great passage of scripture that’s been getting me through this tough time comes from Philippians 4:6-8. In the Message translation it says:

    “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

    “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. ”

    I think the one-two punch of the Litany of Humility combined with letting Christ displace worry at the center of my life might just help me get through this. Thanks for sharing!

    (Also, EWJ was probably my most-drawn cartoon character in my teenage years. Thanks for your inspiration!)

  10. George Says:

    When you say that all Christians are fakes, arrogant, evil etc. you’ll hear a hearty “Yessah!” from me.

    Thanks. I needed that today. You made me smile, laugh and think. Pride is easy, humility is tough. Not to piss you off, or kick you in the crotch, but your words really do make me humble. Thanks for the blog. : ))

    p.s. Reading the whole string is quite rewarding. Your comments on the left hand/right hand gives me comfort in understanding the times we live in. Thanks again. I don’t mind being odd, I just like to have company.


  11. Mr. Ten Napel,

    I love your honesty on this piece! It embodies what every Christian really needs to be open and honest about. Not the cliche phrase of “we’re all sinners” so much as we are really arrogant and need to meditate on humility in hope we can finally achieve it! The struggle to truly become humble is the hallmark of any walk of the Christian faith! Most people with the title ‘Saint’ in front of they’re name started off life as vain and arrogant; and latter experienced the call of Christ to become ‘humble’ in our view, but they never felt humble in they’re mortal lives after being so close to God! Take St. Francis of Assisi for example… He never stopped trying to be more humble, and never felt truly humble while he walked this earth!

    Yes, we Christians are arrogant and make big mistakes all the time! The sooner we accept that fact and try to over come it the better! Let the critics whine! It will only keep us grounded in reality!


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